by Robert Zaruta, NWIRC President/CEO

There is a flurry of activity that centers on collaboration in order to strengthen manufacturing in our region. Companies are working together to increase the awareness of career opportunities for youth and dislocated workers, to address various workforce challenges, share best practices, and do business with one another. NWIRC is excited to be involved with some of these initiatives; here are just a few.

Lean Together programs created by NWIRC promote collaboration by design. These ‘working groups for operational excellence’ bring together manufacturers to focus on making small, incremental improvements at their companies based on the Paul Akers book, 2 Second Lean™. Companies share their ideas and successes, as well as tour facilities to see others’ improvements first-hand. New companies are joining the cohorts all the time. Many of the participants who started in Lean Together 1.0, have now moved on to Lean Together 2.0, Lean Together Advanced, and/or the Lean Together CEO Roundtable.

Next Generation Sector Partnerships for manufacturing are starting to make some traction in our region. NWIRC serves as a convener of the partnership for eight counties of northwestern PA, now with participation of leadership from approximately 50 companies. They recently held their third in-person meeting at Acutec Precision Aerospace in Meadville. On an on-going basis, three action teams collaborate during conference calls to move forward specific strategies within the themes of 1) promoting manufacturing careers, 2) branding the region with a #Return2NWPA campaign, and 3) business to business connections for regional sourcing and sharing best practices. Their ultimate goal is not to replicate activities already successful in the region, but to connect them or create new opportunities for a region-wide effort. I recently had the privilege of facilitating the re-launch of a Next Gen Partnership for manufacturers in 6 counties of North Central, PA, convened by Workforce Solutions. They have new energy and increasing participation, so it will be exciting to see their focus for the future.

Erie Regional Manufacturing Partnership (ERMP) leads efforts to address the skills gap by 1) participating in a grant program to reimburse companies who have a registered apprenticeship program, 2) creating an Adopt-a-School program for better connection to education, and 3) designing career pathways. Most recently, ERMP received a grant to develop a Work Advance Program to attract entry-level job-seekers with a training program, employment, and opportunities for advancement. NWIRC will contribute by providing critical thinking and problem-solving training modules, along with career coaching.

The future of manufacturing in NWPA will look even brighter as this collaboration continues.